“The Other Side of the Wind” Movie Review

There is quite possibly nothing more weird and ironic than seeing the Netflix logo and the title card, “An Orson Welles Picture,” in the same movie. But alas, here we are, my friends. This satirical mockumentary dramedy officially marks the final feature-length film by writer, director, and producer Orson Welles. Although it spent the better part of over 30 years locked in a Paris vault, some loopholes allowed to be brought into the light of day, premiering out of competition at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. It was subsequently released in select theaters and on the streaming service Netflix on November 2nd, 2018. It was also released alongside a companion piece documentary by Morgan Neville called They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. After two decades of making avant-garde pictures in Europe, Welles intended this film to be his big Hollywood comeback. Following a grueling 6-year production period, the project further became embroiled in various complex political, legal, and financial troubles that prevented its completion. Even after the director’s death in 1985, the surviving cast and crew worked furiously to bring the infamous and seemingly hopeless film to public light. It wasn’t until early 2017 that producer Frank Marshall and Netflix were finally able to get a hold of the original negative and dallies to finish the film, aided by extensive memos and notes that Welles left behind. Loosely autobiographical, the story revolves around John Huston as Jake Hannaford, an aging Hollywood filmmaker who has been in a self-imposed exile for the past several years. Inspired by a renewed confidence and seduction of the movie industry, he decides to put together his comeback film, an experimental epic called The Other Side of the Wind. The entire film is told through a mockumentary style, and we witness firsthand as Hannaford attempts to finish it in spite of fan skepticism, anticipation, and conflicts with his cast and crew. What does it say about modern technology and filmmaking that we’re able to watch a brand new Orson Welles movie in the year 2018? On a streaming service, of all places? And this being the first feature-length Orson Welles movie I’ve finished, (I know, I know, late to party) I was particularly interested in seeing the infamous production finally in my laps. Not even Terry Gilliam’s notorious The Man Who Killed Don Quixote had such a hard time getting released by distributors. While The Other Side of the Wind certainly feels disjointed and incomplete in parts, there’s certainly quite a bit of meat to chew on. However, before you click the Play button, I would highly suggest that you watch the accompanying documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead first. Not only does it do an amazing job at contextualizing the decades-long struggle at finishing and releasing the film, but is a unique retrospective into the careers of one of the most interesting filmmakers in history. The sad truth is that there are number of amazing ideas in Hollywood that ultimately never come to fruition, and even a handful that are never finished after production wraps. One character in the film mentions, “Inevitably, the need to make money creates the need for a certain kind of picture,” and the film as a whole is a scathing critique of the film industry. Welles exploits his real-life friendship with John Huston to great effect, because the late thespian is virtually perfect as Jake Hannaford. His deep, raspy voice is rather soothing to listen to, even as he does and says outrageous things to his colleagues and critics. Speaking of critics, Susan Strasberg is utterly remorseless and hard-edged as Juliette Riche, Hannaford’s biggest skeptic. Inspired by Welles’ real-life feud with film critic Pauline Kael, she is extremely cynical of the once-revered auteur’s chance of making it again. Then, there’s Peter Bogdonovich as  Hannaford’s young protégé Brooks Otterlake, a burgeoning filmmaker himself. Although there’s clearly a connection between the two of them, you can feel a hesitation in keeping it going; Otterlake sees his mentor as a waning drunkard on the verge of being lost. There are a host of other small roles, including Norman Foster, Bob Random, Lilli Palmer, Paul Stewart, and Mercedes McCambridge, as well as cameos from people like Dennis Hopper, Les Moonves, and Cameron Crowe. Oja Kodar, co-writer and star of the film-within-a-film, is mysterious and enticing as “The Red Woman.” Although she has virtually no lines in the entire movie, she leaves a major sense of intrigue as to who (Or what) she is both to Hannaford and those around him. As far as technical aspects go, The Other Side of the Wind is extremely unique, no matter what era it might have been released in. Gary Graver deserves a special award for sticking with Welles as the cinematographer throughout the whole 6-year process. His cinéma vérité approach to the story serves the mockumentary style well, creating a very naturalistic world of filmmaking. There’s some genuinely appealing imagery, such as catching a plane flying directly over a car ride with many of the characters or in a dark drive-in movie theater. The use of techniques like sudden zoom-ins and handheld roving allows for characters to talk over each other and give sage observations. Welles also did a good chunk of editing before his death, which was finished up mainly by Bob Murawski and countless other people along the way. Cutting over 100 hours of raw footage into 122 minutes must have been no easy task, especially with adding sound, but it is remarkable. It moves rapidly in scenes, adding a visceral feeling to the “crew” documenting everything. There also numerous changes between color frames and black-white frames, which is debatable as either a convenience or an artistic choice. The prolific French New Wave veteran Michel Legrand contributes the instrumental score for this film, his second for Welles after F for Fake. It’s quite an interesting soundtrack to be sure, if not a particularly Earth-shattering one. The most consistent element is that of jazz, and is as dynamic as the genre itself. Some of the fast-paced scenes feature exciting swing bands going on and on, while some of the more somber scenes are layered by a melancholic track. Quite literally 40 years in the damn making, The Other Side of the Wind is a fascinating, if necessarily incomplete peak into the creative film process. If anything, I think it does a pretty good job at introducing what to expect from some of Orson Welles’ other work, which I intend to watch in the next year. Although it isn’t quite as extraordinary as the decades-long struggle to get it finished, I still applaud Netflix for putting the money behind the project for the director’s final vision to be seen by the world.

1 thought on ““The Other Side of the Wind” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: 2018 Superlatives | Geek's Landing

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